A home bonus-point win for mighty Leinster over a side they have ravaged more than a few times in the past was the least to expect – and was pretty much all they delivered. The Dublin side took what they came for in simple fashion.
Northampton’s travails continue this season, their form so strangely imploding since the virus put an end to normal service back in March. Here they were competitive, after a fashion, but they know this competition is a luxury they cannot afford to dream of winning, so the avoidance of humiliation might register as a bonus of sorts.
If they needed any encouraging, Leinster’s doctor supplied it, removing two of the hosts’ key players on the day. Harry Byrne and Caelen Doris, fly-half and No 8, went down with injuries, the former replaced by his elder brother, Ross, an Ireland international. Within 10 minutes Leinster had lost their full-back to injury, too.
If providence were offering Northampton a cue to reverse their hideous run of form in the unlikeliest of places, they were slow on the uptake. By the time Jimmy O’Brien had taken his leave, Leinster were a try up and two a few minutes after that. Both were ominously soft.
This was neither side’s strongest lineup but the defensive lapses that have plagued them since the resumption from lockdown were still in evidence. At the start of both halves, Leinster were allowed to waltz in from a scrum. Garry Ringrose made the incision for the first, which paved the way for Josh Murphy, Doris’s replacement, to crash over.
Ryan Baird, a lock, then galloped clean through as if he were a back. Northampton survived that one, but when they chose to scrum a free-kick in their own 22 they merely ceded a free-kick back to their hosts, who tapped and charged for Cian Healy to drive over.
At that point, an all-too-familiar rout seemed in the offing, but the next two tries were scored by the Saints, who pulled back to within three a few minutes short of the break. Leinster were hardly rock-solid in defence themselves. Both of Northampton’s tries were from scrums, too.
Fraser Dingwall picked a great line off Tom James’s pass for the first, before James himself picked up from a scrum and dummied his way through to the line. An earlier Byrne penalty proved the difference at that point, but after a Byrne break – from another scrum – a long ball by Jamison Gibson-Park put Dave Kearney into the corner on the stroke of half-time.
Gibson-Park took a turn just after the restart, running clean through to the line straight from a scrum to open up a 29-14 lead for Leinster and claim the bonus point, only to undo his good work by conceding a try himself a minute later. Nick Isiekwe charged him down and sauntered over to score Northampton’s third.
The frenzy was over, as a biting wind whipped some rain into the mix. Leinster were sober enough to take the points twice in the final quarter when offered kickable penalties. They take what the rugby world assumed they would, maximum points, albeit without the accustomed flourish. Top spot in Pool A remains theirs.